Series Classification: G (General Programmes)
"Did Metiria Turei mean to turn the 2017 election on its head?" - Morgan Godfery, host of Matangireia
At her party’s annual conference earlier that year, the former Green co-leader made an admission that would upend the entire election campaign: as a young mother she was accepting rent money from flatmates without disclosing it to Work and Income.
At that time, Turei was a struggling parent putting herself through law school. Years later the admission was meant as instructive: benefit levels are too low, and that forces young mothers and beneficiaries to make impossible decisions.
But her political opponents and many in the media saw an uncomplicated case of “benefit fraud”. Journalists dug into her past, searching for records in places like the National Library, and tracking down old friends and family.
In the end that scrutiny of her family became intolerable, and six weeks before the election Turei stood down as Green co-leader.
It was the end of a 15-year career in Parliament that saw the former activist and lawyer champion issues like child poverty and the management of tūpāpaku (human remains), securing landmark select committee inquiries into both.
“Skilled up, we can take on power and authority,” Turei told Morgan Godfery – host of Matangireia.
The then Green MP saw a dramatic demonstration of that just two years into her Parliamentary career when the foreshore and seabed hīkoi made its way through Parliament’s front gates.
“This is fierce as,” she thought.
“Rod Donald had a big green banner that said ‘Honour the Treaty’. I was so stoked he’d done that.”
“We were on [the protesters'] side in that debate.”
Turei and her Green Party colleagues cast their vote against the then Labour-led government’s Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 when it came up for its third and final reading.
Does it bother Turei that she never had the opportunity to be a part of the government?
“I do my fair share of yelling at the telly like everybody else does when I think things aren’t going fast enough. But that’s the whole point is that you make your contribution and move on. The best signifier that your contribution mattered is that the issues you were working on continue to progress.”
One of those issues Turei was an early champion of, submitting a private member’s bill on it, and that continues to progress is cannabis decriminalisation.
Turei said she would have liked to take up the Social Development portfolio as a minister. But speaking from outside of Parliament she’s reflective.
“I was brave,” she said, talking about her decision to anchor the Green’s welfare policy announcement in her own experiences.
“I took a big risk... it will always be worth it. But it did come at a cost, and it was the cost of my job.”